The Old Ceremony is a rock ‘n’ roll band you should know, and well. Over the past six years this Durham/Chapel Hill, NC group has gone from strength to strength, steadily putting out records with a craftsmanship and aural precociousness that’s impressive in this fast food age. Listen a short while to this band and you won’t doubt they’ll be around for a long, long time. While comparisons to the likes of Joe Henry, Tim Bluhm, The National and Elvis Costello hold some water, The Old Ceremony carve out their own niche, a place of toe-tapping contemplation and clear-eyed storytelling that doesn’t pussyfoot around the warts and scars that dot most real world tales. In their hands, travails seem to dance or at the very least shuffle towards a weary smile.
Their recently released fourth long-player Tender Age is a bittersweet corker packed with songs about the risings and fallings of love and the days spent in between the bright spots. Perversely, tracks with titles like “Ruined My Plans” and “Gun To My Head” are the cheery ones, but that’s part of singer-songwriter Django Haskins’ gift, a sleight of hand with perspective that pours sunshine out of rocky places and finds shadows along a summer seashore. Without hyperbole, Haskins is one of the best young songsmiths going. His work, especially as aided by his fully engaged, empathetic bandmates, is the sort one returns to again and again because it keeps offering up rewards in its tuneful companionship and honest observations. The truth is always refreshing, especially when delivered in such a well composed and executed package like The Old Ceremony.
Read on to see what Django had to say in the Impound’s signature interview segment.
- Why do you think you’re a musician?
- I was probably doomed to it because my folks were musicians in the 60s and they named me Django after Django Reinhardt. I fought against it for a while but eventually decided to flow with the current. I tried everything else and I just kept coming back to it, and finally said, “Okay, fine!”.
- The name of your band is one of the first things that caught my attention. There’s a lot of dumb band names out there and yours isn’t one of them. There’s something intriguing about the phrase ‘The Old Ceremony’ even before one hears your music.
- We named the band after the Leonard Cohen album New Skin For The Old Ceremony, and from the beginning, from what I could tell, the old ceremony either referred to sex or circumcision. Either way, I figured it was fertile ground for a rock ‘n’ roll band..
- Leonard gets into some really strange territory. I think he’s the only modern poet-musician with a romantic poetic ode to fellatiopoetic ode to fellatio. And with the two possible meanings you point out, he’s already given your band some new resonances.
- No doubt! It’s an open enough name that it doesn’t tie us to a particular sound, so we can hopefully evolve. If we were The Rockin’ Harleys or something we’d be tied down a bit more..
- There’s some elegance to the phrase that also fits your music. There’s a graceful quality to your music, where there’s poppy hooks but also this sweep and reach that a lot of rock has let go of in recent years.
- It ends up being confusing for certain people because what we do has hooks and its rock ‘n’ roll or pop or however you want to define it, but we like all kinds of music and don’t see why they can’t be combined. Because of that we end up having some odd mixtures of sounds, but that makes it interesting for us. We’ve played together for six and a half years, so it’s got to stay interesting for us. It’s both a strength and a weakness that each song sounds a little different from every other song..
- The new album is pretty groovy. That’s a word that jumped into my head pretty quickly when I dug into Tender Age. It’s got some quality swing to it. Your drummer Dan Hall is fantastic.
- He’s a really swingin’ kind of player because he comes from a jazz background. Elvin Jones is his guy. I think the more psychedelic aspects came from our organ player [Mark Simonsen] originally and now we’re all into it doing more in that territory. And a lot of the pure groove/beat oriented stuff is coming from our bass player Matt [Brandau]. He’s really into that stuff. I’m writing the songs but the arrangements will change the songs a lot. We’re finally getting to a stage where we can really integrate all these various aspects and interests while still keeping the focus on the songs..
- One thing I really like about The Old Ceremony is the honest hope and faith stirring in some of your songs like “Til My Voice Is Gone” and “World’s Too Much.” You have a wonderfully jaundiced eye on some tunes but that’s balanced by the absolutely non-hokey way you approach hope elsewhere. I actually feel uplifted by these tunes.
- Good! It’s been a struggle for me as a writer to be hopeful but not hokey. Basically, I want to be genuinely hopeful, and the best way for me to do that is to be honest about how bad things can be and then from there say, “But then again…it could be worse,” and convey that things will be alright. I think defiant hopefulness feels more natural to me than the Pollyanna view of the world, which makes me sick. Trying to find a balance is always a difficult thing.
We did a local show recently at the Cat’s Cradle and we got a gospel group to open up for us. So, we had this gospel group with 10 singers and a 5-piece band and they were amazing. And then the singers came up and sang on “Til My Voice Is Gone,” and it changed the song for me forever. It became a gospel song because they sang it with so much passion. We played it the next night without them and I could still feel that. It’s really exciting to see that there’s some of our music that could be interpreted as uplifting..
- So, what’s usually going through your head right before you go onstage?
- I’m usually looking for stray members of the band.